A POEM FOR OUR CITY
Houston Arts Alliance
Did you miss the Houston Arts Reception for Elected Officials? City of Houston Poet Laureate Dr. Robin Davidson stole the show with a reading of To Speak of Rivers, after Langston Hughes, a poem written especially for the occasion. The masterful homage to Houston and the city’s African-American artists hit all the right notes for attendees, concluding an evening of praise and vowed support—from Mayor Sylvester Turner—to Houston’s arts and cultural communities.
Fun fact: There’s a reference in the poem to her son, Houston musician Mighty Orq, and his song Houston Blues, developed in collaboration with Texas bluesman Alan Haynes. The album the song was written for, Soulful City, was funded through an Individual Artist Grant from Houston Arts Alliance! How cool is that?
Read Dr. Davidson’s poem below.
Dedicated to Mayor Sylvester Turner and the City of Houston
2016 Houston Arts Reception for Elected Officials
Robin Davidson, Houston Poet Laureate
February 29, 2016
To Speak of Rivers
after Langston Hughes
Out of land, ancient, dusky, out of marsh’s muddy bosom—
a city rises skyward, each slab and brick,
each wooden beam, steel girder, mirrored surface,
a collective act of faith that a single port imagined and rooted
in a soil’s shifting can hold, call us home.
In the Biggers mural women of color move like a river
through time, history, and the reams of fabric they carry, quilt.
The woman in their midst, almost angel,
shines amber beneath what could be thread
or basket straw or rough-hewn wings,
and she looks southward toward the city’s sculpted skyline.
On Dowling Street in the heart of Houston
men’s voices rise, their guitar strings turn harp, then trumpet—
Lightning Hopkins, Texas Johnny Brown, Earl Gilliam, Grady Gaines
until the street fills with night and song,
and I hear my own son’s voice, Born in Houston, trill among them.
On Yupon Street in the chapel named for Rothko,
the wall-sized work beneath the atrium ceiling’s shining
opens into luminous black, plum, rose. The painter believed
in the power of light to save us, just as
Newman believed in elemental form, color, the ancient
obelisk broken, rising out of water, de Menil’s monument
to a great man’s prayers turned earthward.
In the papyrus fragment of a first-century gospel, a man stands
on the bank of the Jordan, a handful of seeds in his palm.
He releases them into the current that fills first with seedlings,
then sprouts, then trees—quinces, figs, apples.
In Fourth Ward, a woman lies down in the coffin-like hole of a street
where patterned brick laid by freedmen is dug out, lost. Her body’s
weight is a port, the rooted call rising
out of land ancient, dusky, out of marsh’s muddy bosom—moving like the ghost
of a river whose tide fills with trees, their sap like human voices
soaring, a singing turned city, and free.